If Ye Be Willing and Obedient
December 1971

“If Ye Be Willing and Obedient,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, 123

Sunday afternoon session, October 3, 1971

“If Ye Be Willing and Obedient”

My dear brethren and sisters: I am grateful for the prayer of President [Wayne] Shute. I earnestly hope that the petition therein expressed will be answered in our behalf.

Recently I stood in Trafalgar Square in London and looked up at the statue of Lord Nelson. At the base of the column are his words uttered on the morning of the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Lord Nelson was killed on that historic day in 1805, as were many others; but England was saved as a nation, and Britain became an empire.

The image of duty and obedience has been seriously tarnished since that time. This is not exactly new; it is as old as human history. Isaiah declared to ancient Israel: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:

“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isa. 1:19–20.)

I recall sitting in this Tabernacle when I was fourteen or fifteen—up in the balcony right behind the clock—and hearing President Heber J. Grant tell of his experience in reading the Book of Mormon when he was a boy. He spoke of Nephi and of the great influence he had upon his life. And then, with a voice ringing with a conviction that I shall never forget, he quoted those great words of Nephi: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)

There came into my young heart on that occasion a resolution to try to do what the Lord has commanded. I would that I might have the power, through the Spirit of the Lord, similarly to touch someone in this congregation today.

What marvelous things happen when men walk with faith in obedience to that which is required of them! I recently read the interesting story of Commander William Robert Anderson, the naval officer who took the submarine Nautilus beneath the polar ice from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, a daring and dangerous feat. It recounted a number of other exploits of similar danger. It concluded with a statement that he carried in his wallet a tattered card that had on it these words, which I commend to you:

“I believe I am always divinely guided.

I believe I will always take the right road.

I believe God will always make a way where there is no way.”

I too believe that God will always make a way where there is no way. I believe that if we will walk in obedience to the commandments of God, if we will follow the counsel of the priesthood, he will open a way even where there appears to be no way.

Facing Trafalgar Square in London is the National Art Gallery of Britain, in which hangs Sir Joshua Reynolds’ painting of the boy Samuel, who as a child heard a voice and replied, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.” (1 Sam. 3:10.)

From that day Samuel walked in obedience to the commandments of God and became the great prophet of Israel. He it was who selected and ordained both King Saul and King David. And it was to Saul that he declared in a rebuke that has rung down through the ages, “… to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22.)

I draw strength from a simple statement made concerning the Prophet Elijah, who warned King Ahab of drought and famine to come upon the land. But Ahab scoffed. And the Lord told Elijah to go and hide himself by the brook Cherith, that there he should drink of the brook, and that he would be fed by the ravens. And the scripture records a simple and wonderful statement: “So he went and did according unto the word of the Lord.” (1 Kgs. 17:5.)

There was no arguing. There was no excusing. There was no equivocating. Elijah simply “went and did according unto the word of the Lord.” And he was saved from the terrible calamities that befell those who scoffed and argued and questioned.

It is not always easy to be obedient to the voice of the Lord. We may feel inadequate. I frequently draw comfort from the conversation Moses had with Jehovah, who called him to lead Israel out of Egypt. Moses was a fugitive and a herder of sheep. How totally inadequate he must have felt!

“And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent … but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” (And then I can almost hear him say, “Please don’t ask me.”)

“And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? …

“Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” (Ex. 4:10–12.)

In 1837, when the Church was struggling in Kirtland, Ohio, the Prophet Joseph Smith called Heber C. Kimball to go to England to open the work there. Brother Kimball exclaimed in self-humiliation: “O, Lord, I am a man of stammering tongue, and altogether unfit for such a work; how can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout Christendom for learning, knowledge and piety … and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial!”

But then on reflection he added: “However, all these considerations did not deter me from the path of duty; the moment I understood the will of my Heavenly Father, I felt a determination to go at all hazards, believing that he would support me by his almighty power, and endow me with every qualification that I needed; and although my family was dear to me, and I should have to leave them almost destitute, I felt that the cause of truth, the Gospel of Christ, outweighed every other consideration.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball [Bookcraft, 1967], p. 104.)

He traveled over the sea and commenced the work in Preston, Lancashire, with the very devils of hell opposing him and his companions. And thus began a work in that part of the world that has blessed for good the lives of hundreds of thousands. The great conference recently held in Manchester was but the lengthened shadow of that fearful but faithful beginning.

The assignments given us may be distasteful. Naaman the leper came with his horses and with his chariot, with his gifts and his gold, to the Prophet Elisha to be cured. And Elisha, without seeing him, sent a messenger saying, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.”

But Naaman, the proud and haughty captain of the Syrian host, was insulted at so distasteful a thing and went away. Only when his servants pleaded with him was he humbled enough to return. And the record says, “Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–10.)

There sits in this hall a man known to many of you. Some years ago he received a missionary call to the Western States Mission with headquarters in Denver. He had been to Denver a number of times as a member of the university debate team. It was only over the mountain. He and his parents had dreamed of a more exotic field, of one of those “faraway places with the strange-sounding names.” His friends smiled. Some dear to him doubted the wisdom, the inspiration of his call. Why should so choice a young man be called on a mission from Salt Lake City to Denver? But he went. He became a powerful missionary. There are those today who thank the Lord for his coming. He was named counselor to his mission president and experienced marvelous opportunities for training in leadership. He met there a beautiful girl whom he later married. Out of the remarkable and peculiar opportunities of that mission, there emerged within him qualities that have made him preeminent in his chosen vocation. Today he sits here as one of the Regional Representatives of the Twelve.

I think I should add that a man who sits here behind me, President Harold B. Lee, went to the same field, under similar circumstances, and out of that obedience came some of those great and marvelous qualities which we have witnessed in his life, and for which we dearly love him.

May I share with you something of a personal and sacred testimony?

Nearly forty years ago I was on a mission in England. I had been called to labor in the European Mission office in London under President Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, then president of the European Mission. One day three or four of the London papers carried reviews of a reprint of an old book, snide and ugly in tone, indicating that the book was a history of the Mormons. President Merrill said to me, “I want you to go down to the publisher and protest this.” I looked at him and was about to say, “Surely not me.” But I meekly said, “Yes, sir.”

I do not hesitate to say that I was frightened. I went to my room and felt something as I think Moses must have felt when the Lord asked him to go and see Pharaoh. I offered a prayer. My stomach was churning as I walked over to the Goodge Street station to get the underground train to Fleet Street. I found the office of the president and presented my card to the receptionist. She took it and went into the inner office and soon returned to say that Mr. Skeffington was too busy to see me. I replied that I had come five thousand miles and that I would wait. During the next hour she made two or three trips to his office, then finally invited me in. I shall never forget the picture when I entered. He was smoking a long cigar with a look that seemed to say, “Don’t bother me.”

I held in my hand the reviews. I do not know what I said after that. Another power seemed to be speaking through me. At first he was defensive and even belligerent. Then he began to soften. He concluded by promising to do something. Within an hour word went out to every book dealer in England to return the books to the publisher. At great expense he printed and tipped in the front of each volume a statement to the effect that the book was not to be considered as history, but only as fiction, and that no offense was intended against the respected Mormon people. Years later he granted another favor of substantial worth to the Church, and each year until the time of his death I received a Christmas card from him.

I came to know that when we try in faith to walk in obedience to the requests of the priesthood, the Lord opens the way, even when there appears to be no way.

Ten years ago last Friday I was sustained in this great Tabernacle as a member of the Council of the Twelve. These have been wonderful years, fraught with a thousand faith-promoting experiences in many parts of the earth. But of all the experiences I have had, the most rewarding have come in participating in the weekly meetings of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve in the temple that stands to the east of us. Here there is prayer, an earnest pleading for the will of the Lord. And in this sacred place is manifest the spirit of revelation as decisions and programs affecting the Church are proposed and presented.

Out of the experiences of these ten years I give you my testimony that God is constantly making known, in his way, his will concerning his people. I give you my witness that the leaders of this church will never ask us to do anything that we cannot perform with the help of the Lord. We may feel inadequate. That which we are asked to do may not be to our liking or fit in with our ideas. But if we will try with faith and prayer and resolution, we can accomplish it.

I give you my testimony that the happiness of the Latter-day Saints, the peace of the Latter-day Saints, the progress of the Latter-day Saints, the prosperity of the Latter-day Saints, and the eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience to the counsels of the priesthood of God. “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet, To guide us in these latter days.” (Hymns, no. 196.)

Help us, O God, to be willing and obedient, that we may eat the good of the land. Help us, Father, to place our trust in thee, to go forth with willing, subdued hearts, that we may be worthy of thy blessings, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.